The Tuskegee School of Midwifery: Exposing the Suppression of Black and Indigenous Midwifery Knowledges in U.S. Medicine in Service to Redefining Reproductive Care

Anne Napatalung
Feminist Studies
UC Santa Cruz

The Tuskegee School of Midwifery (1941-1946) produced the first class of midwifery graduates from a college or university in the US. I shine light on the emergence and disappearance of this program for all Black women, as most of the school’s records were destroyed or lost by its founding partners. Framing the program as an understudied historical site linked to persisting inequities in infant and maternal health, I demonstrate its interconnectedness to local, national, and transnational care. I consider the origins of obstetrics and gynecology within modern medicine, the suppression of Black and Indigenous lay midwifery in relation to the Tuskegee Institute as a private, land-grant HBCU, and the criminalization of informal medical knowledge through circuits between Alabama and Haiti. Showing the importance of a critical feminist interdisciplinary analysis for broader medical humanities questions, I expose the disruption and dismantling of local reproductive care networks as ongoing systemic violence enacted by dominant philanthropic and medical health care frames. This analysis enables the tracking of intergenerational trauma and intergenerational healing at bodily and systemic levels, and responds to the urgent need for more expansive definitions of reproductive rights, medicine, education, and care.